Unlike previous decades where shoes were barley seen hidden underneath layers of petticoats and floor length dresses, women’s shoes and stockings of the 1920’s and 1930’s were all about showing off legs! Shoes were taller, colorful, and festive with their decorations. Cuban heels grew taller and toes were rounded to make the feet look more petite. The use of checkered leather designs and applique were popular trims. In the early 20’s women were still in mourning over their losses during WWI. As such black was the primary mourning color. Fashion made it’s foot print by combining black with grey tones on the shoe and thus put some style into traditional life.
1920s T-Strap Shoes
The biggest fashionable shoe style of the 1920’s was the T-strap or the T-bar heeled pump. The side strap closed at on side with a button or sometimes two. Straps with a lot of decoration and two button closures were called “Fasenettas.” Beads and glass paste gems (similar to rhinestones) were all the rage for decorations. Even beaded fringe became necessary to match the elaborate beading on 1920’s formal gowns. Other popular options were to make insects and butterflies out of glass beads or colored gauze and place them on the vamp. Heel height was a moderate 2 inches to 3 inches during the flapper phase.
When just decorating with color became dull women began to wear hand painted colorful gold, red, and orange pumps. Often these came with hand painted ‘oriental’ themes which were wildly popular during the Art Deco movement.
The flapper movement really embraced bold colors and matching shoes to dresses, stockings, and decoration. If a woman couldn’t die a pair of shoes to match her dress she just recovered them in her same dress material. She could also hand paint her shoes. The T strap was still the most popular style even for flappers. Despite that some art paintings show women in high heeled, open toe sandals these were NOT worn in the 20’s. They would not have been safe for dancing nor fashionable even to the liberated flapper girl.
Other similar styles of 1920s shoes were the Mary Jane which consisted of a single strap across the foot that either buckled or buttoned in place. The basic pump without straps was common although less so then strappier versions. Some pumps also had a ankle strap to hold the shoe on better. Finally some shoes had several straps, 2 or 3, placed across the foot horizontally or in a criss cross pattern.
Make Your Own 1920s Shoes
Start with a white pair of t-strap leather pumps and apply your favorite bright color shoe polish. Accent the strap and heel with gold or silver fabric paint (a paint pen works great) or stick on rhinestones. You can also use a paint pen to draw zing zags, wings or other Art Deco images across the shoe. Presto you have your own unique pair of 1920’s shoes.
These shoes are Astoria’s from American Duchess where I just used rhinestone stickers to add some sparkle. Recollections at Michael’s craft stores make a great assortment of stick on appliques for scrap books that work great as temporary decorations on shoes.
1920s Oxfords for Women
Besides pumps, the staple shoes were low heeled oxfords. These shoes which looked like mens dress shoes, were comfortable yet classy. The tied up with string laces and came in basic earthy colors.
The stock market crash of 1929 caused a crash in flamboyant shoe fashion as well. High heeled t-straps shoes and string tie oxfords were still popular but the decorations and the colors were more minimal. Sleek and simple was in. Flashy was out. Colors were more subtle and muted like evergreen, navy, brown and black for daytime wear. They typically matched or at least didn’t clash with a ladies outfit. For evening, matching colors and fabrics were a must. Silk, satin, and velvet were the predominant shoe materials and dress materials of the 20’s. Accents of silver or gold piping added minimal decoration to plain shoes.
1930s Women’s Shoes
The one style I usually associate with the 1930’s in not the style itself but the decoration technique. Cut out, cut away, and punch outs are all terms used to describe small perforated decorative holes in the shoe body or accent material. Cutouts could be used on oxford, pumps, and heels among other shoes.
Every 30’s women had to have a two tone white and whatever color was your favorite, shoe. The two toned color combination was seen on casual and evening wear styles. Men too embraced the striking patterns of two toned shoes and together women and men walked into the 1940’s with style.
Although there was great concern for the health of women’s feet during the mid 1930’s the desire for more freedom in footwear was greater. Open toe, peep toe, and sandals with criss-cross slingback heel straps were a welcome daytime choice. The late 30’s brought about “clunky” cork wedge heels also know as “spool heels” and platform shoes. Read more about these and other 1940’s Style Shoes.